Pandemic paving the way for more MLC 2006 violations?

Australian maritime authorities and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) found more rampant violations on seafarers working conditions amid the pandemic.

A Bloomberg report said the Australian  Maritime Safety Agency (AMSA) detained MV Unison Japer after it learned last July that a third of its crew have been on the ship for 14 months in violation of the Maritime Labor Convention 2006.

Seven of the 22-person crew had been on the ship for 14 months, beyond the end-date of their contracts and in breach of international maritime law, regulators and union officials said.

The ITF found that owners owed the crew $64,000 in back pay. There wasn’t enough fresh food and also no valid plan for those who completed their contract to get them home to their families in Myanmar.

This is more or less the situation of the 20 % of the world’s 1.6 million seafarers stranded at sea.

And the ongoing pandemic, the inability to conduct crew changes in many countries, is seen by many as an excuse to violate seafarer protections.

As of Sept. 10, AMSA said it received 108 complaints alleging labor violations. Of these, 32 complaints were related to seafarers serving on board for over 14 months.

Other complaints were about failure to provide decent working conditions, insufficient quality and quantity of food, underpayment of seafarers and attempts to coerce workers’ silence.

Most of the complaints have been resolved, but seven ships, including the Unison Jasper, were detained for their violations.

Except perhaps in Australia, upholding seafarers’ rights is, in general, burdensome if not close to impossible due to a complicated and very fragmented system in the industry that makes it hard to hold anyone accountable for on board working conditions.

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